Trophy Hunters

4/19/2012

Milwaukee Bucks (29-32) vs Indiana Pacers (40-22)

6:00 CST, Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis Indiana

Line: Pacers by 6

Last night seemed to many to be the nail in the proverbial coffin for the Bucks playoffs hopes.  Losing to the Washington Wizards in a game the Bucks desparately needed to win to keep pace with the Philadelphia 76ers did not exactly inspire confidence in the Milwaukee squad.  ESPN, through a series of calculations factoring in strength of remaining schedule, record, and current positioning, set the Bucks chance of making the playoffs as just over 13%.

Yet time and again we have all but wrote this team off, only to watch the curious wheels of fate drag out the procession another few weeks.  Besides tonights matchup, the Bucks have one of the easiest schedules in the league, with games against New Jersey, Toronto, a crucial game against Philly, and the season finale against a Boston team who will probably rest most of their starters.  If the Bucks can pull off a win tonight, we might see some magic in the Bradley Center yet.

Roy Hibbert

Hibbert put on a clinic Saturday night in Milwaukee, with 23 points and 14 rebounds.  Hibbert has dominated the Bucks so far this season, averaging a double double in 2 previous matchups.  His reign over the paint exposes a fatal flaw in this Milwaukee Bucks team; lack of a defensive big, ala Andrew Bogut.  Not that this takes anything away from the exciting talent and abilities displayed by Hibbert, but opposing frontcourts all year have had their way with the Bucks (see Dwight Howard, Greg Monroe, Kevin Love, Zaza Pachulia).  Not having the size to match up cannot be an excuse anymore; if the Bucks want to make the playoffs and make some noise, they need to make a statement against Hibbert tonight.

Monta Ellis

The midseason accquisition has matched up to the high expectations set when the Bucks traded away the All-Star Bogut for his services.  In his last 5 games, Ellis has averaged almost 7 assists per game and has scored 30+ twice in this span.  He has managed to do this all while sharing the spotlight and ball with Brandon Jennings, and providing a fearsome perimiter defense often underscored with dramatic steals leading to fast break dunks.  Ellis seems to be ignited by pressure, and he’s in luck; the Bucks have no room for losses, and will all but have to win out to make the playoffs.  Heres your chance to make a name for yourself, Monta. Shine.

Philly Watch

The Bucks faint playoff hopes now lay in the hands of Philadelphia. The Sixers are inactive today and tomorrow, and will be in action on Saturday against this same Pacers team. Hopefully Indiana will have recovered from the beatdown we give them tonight in time to help us out against Philly.

4/13/12

Milwaukee Bucks (28-30) at Detroit Pistons (22-36)

The Bucks are not out of the playoff hunt. If they want to stay in it, however, they will need to win a bunch of games. A good place to start is Detroit, where the struggling Pistons make a good launching point for the Bucks, a team desperately in need of wins. 

Greg Monroe

Yesterday at Charlotte, the Pistons crushed the Bobcats behind the dominating play of Greg Monroe, who scored 25 points and pulled down 11 rebounds. He’s played similarly well against Milwaukee this season, averaging 22 points and 12 rebounds in the 3-game season series. Shutting down Monroe’s paint dominance (I’m looking at you, Larry Sanders and Ekpe Udoh) will go a long way towards shutting down the Pistons tonight.

Brandon Knight

Knight also had a good game last night against the Bobcats, netting 21 points in Detroit’s win. He did better than that last time out against the Bucks, scoring a career high 26 points and dishing 7 assists to help the Pistons win. If Monroe is Batman, Knight is his Robin whom the Bucks will need to shut down. 

Monta Ellis

Ellis has played generally well in his short time in Milwaukee, but he has recently been showing just how high his ceiling is, scoring 25+ in 3 of the last 5 games. His 35-point, 10-assist effort was not enough against New York, but a repeat performance would go a long way in taking down the Pistons, and the earlier he can set the pace, the better the outlook is for the Bucks.

The Bucks need to win this game.

28-30.

4/11/12

Knicks 111-107 Bucks

The game certainly lived up to its billing as both squads truly played like a playoff spot was on the line tonight, but New York came out victorious at the end after scoring the final 6 points of the game. 

Game

Following the blowout at the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder, Bucks fans had reason to be nervous early. The Knicks raced out to an early lead, and found themselves up 36-27 after the first quarter. Rather than allow it to weigh them down, however, the Bucks quickly stamped out the fire and roared back to turn the tables in the 2nd quarter, which they won 35-26. Entering the halftime break, the teams were tied 62-62 on the strength of hot shooting from both sides. New York shot a blistering first-half 61% from the field, but Milwaukee wasn’t too far back with a nice 55% clip of their own. The Knicks also outrebounded the Bucks, 21-16 in the first half. Monta Ellis raced off to 21 first-half points on 8-12 shooting and 2-4 from distance. He also had 7 assists and 4 steals in a ridiculous first half for the new Buck who’s fitting in perfectly.

The 3rd quarter was neck-and-neck the whole way, with no one holding a lead higher than 4 points until the Bucks went up 83-78 with just over 2 minutes to go in the quarter. Iman Shumpert hit a floater at the buzzer to pull the Knicks within 4 as the Bucks led 88-84 going into the final quarter. Milwaukee won the quarter 26-22.  

The 4th quarter was just as tight, with no team holding a lead larger than 6 the whole quarter. J.R. Smith knocked down a 3 to give his team a 108-107 lead with about a minute remaining, and the Bucks followed with a fruitless possession that saw multiple offensive rebounds and 0 points. From there, they had to foul, and Steve Novak knocked down both free throws to give the Knicks a 110-107 lead. Jennings then missed a 3 with about 14 seconds left, and the Bucks had to foul New York again. 1 free throw later, the Bucks were 2 possessions away, and a last-ditch effort from Ellis fell short as the Bucks fell, 111-107.

Monta Ellis

Ellis easily had his best performance in a Bucks jersey tonight, shooting 14-25 from the field and 3-6 from range en route to a game-high 35 points. He grabbed 6 rebounds, and also dished 10 assists to pick up his first double-double since coming over to Milwaukee.

Carmelo Anthony

Anthony was not far behind Ellis throughout the game, as he kept pace with 32 points of his own on 13-26 shooting. He also grabbed 10 rebounds, and helped the Knicks keep pace and eventually overtake the Bucks in the 4th quarter. 

Brandon Jennings

The Ellis-Jennings backcourt experiment continues to thrive, with Jennings shooting 10-20 on his way to 22 points of his own. He also dished 7 assists. The duo was as dynamic as ever, but they did not receive enough help from anyone else besides Mike Dunleavy (the only other Buck in double figures, with 19 points). 

Well, this one hurts. That said, the Bucks are still only 2 games back of both final playoff spots, and it’s certainly still possible, if the Bucks stop losing and put themselves into the playoffs. A Friday night visit to Detroit at 7:00 P.M. may be a godsend.

Fear the Deer! 

4/7/2012

Milwaukee Bucks (28-29) vs New York Knicks (29-28)

7:00 CST, Bradley Center, Milwaukee Wisconsin

Line: Bucks by 5

Well, tonight is the night we’ve been waiting for; prime time on national television, the whole roster at full strength, and the playoffs in our sights.  The importance of tonights game cannot be overstated.  With a win tonight, the Bucks would vault into playoff position for the first time this season.  Also, a Bucks victory secures the tiebreaker between Milwaukee and the Knicks, which is now Milwaukee’s favor 2-1.  In a more personal note, winning tonight would finally thrust the Bucks into the ESPN hemisphere, and finally give Milwaukee the attention it deserves.

There isn’t much that hasn’t already been said about this matchup; These two teams have met 3 times so far this season, and each was a uniquely dramatic performance that the Bucks hold a slight edge so far.  However, here are a couple key aspects to keep an eye on tonight.

Monta Ellis/Brandon Jennings vs Iman Shumpert

Since his increase in playing time, Shumpert has emerged as a defensive star in a lineup which, minus Chandler, devoid of defensive effort.  Given the task of holding Derrick Rose in check, Shumpert stepped up in a big way, holding the MVP in check throughout the Knicks upset win.  Tonight, he matches up with the duo of Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings, a two headed paint driving monster.  Good luck holding them to under 20…

Carmelo vs Anybody

Guarding Carmelo Anthony is a team job; no one player on the floor can guard him for a full 4 (or 5) quarters.  Ekpe Udoh, Ersan Ilyasova, and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute will rotate the responsibility throughout the night.  Mbah a Moute loves a challenge, and will relish the opportunity to maintain his reputation as the Bucks go-to defender of the stars.

4/7/2012

Milwaukee Bucks (27-28) vs Portland Trailblazers (27-29)

7:30 CST, Bradley Center, Milwaukee Wisconsin

Line: Bucks by 5

Milwaukee has enjoyed this stretch of the season.  Throughout the past month, the Bucks have climbed their way within 1 game of the Knicks and 2.5 of the 7th seed Philadelphia Sixers, and have taken care of business against the cellar of the Eastern Conference.  The trend continued last night in Charlotte, as the Bucks muscled out a 95-90 victory. Everyone was not thrilled with the victory, however.  Count Scott Skiles as one of the dissenters;

“Our preparation this morning wasn’t good, we weren’t good to start the game, defense was terrible and we won. Yippee.”

Just another of the many emotions of Scott Skiles, who usually transitions between intense, focused, and concentrated.  In all fairness, Skiles does have a point.  The Bucks extremely under performed against the Eastern Conference worst Bobcats.  They need to step up their play before the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday night.

Their final tuneup before Monday’s showdown comes tonight against the Portland Trailblazers. These two teams met back in late march in Portland, a game that the Bucks completely dominated.  The final score, 116-87, does not tell just how well the Bucks performed, a hopeful sign for tonight.

Monta Ellis

Ellis had a good performance last night, but some cause for concern emerged.  His 2-6 shooting in the fourth quarter was frustrating to watch, as his jumpers clanged off the back rim.  What we had praised him for earlier in the week, his late game performance last night was only redeemed by his icing the game with his free throw attempts.  9-21 isn’t a horrid shooting night, but games like last night fuel his detractors, who say his scoring production doesn’t compensate for his poor shot selection.  In his last game against Portland, Monta had a great performance, with 14 points and 9 assists. If he can repeat this performance or better it, the Bucks can cruise to victory. 

Ekpe Udoh

The new Buck has finally found his place in Milwaukee’s scheme, and has forced his way into the starting lineup.  On any given night, Udoh is a threat for a double double, and has firmed up the Bucks interior defense.  Without Bogut, the Bucks have had a serious shortage of blocks. Udoh has filled this gap, last night recording 3, including a critical late game block of a Kemba Walker layup attempt.  Tonight, Ekpe and Ilyasova will have the unenviable task of guarding All Star LaMarcus Aldridge, fresh off hitting a game-winning shot against the Mavericks. 

Banged Up

Several Bucks are still nursing injuries and are questionable for tonight’s game.  Drew Gooden is expected to play a limited role as he plays his first game back from a back injury.  Carlos Delfino will also make an appearance as he continues to regain form from his groin injury.  The news is not as positive for Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, who will again be held out due to a lingering knee injury.  Time will only tell how effective Delfino and Drew will be, but their presence on the court should give the Bucks offense a boost for tonight’s game.



27-28!

4/6/12

Bucks 95-90 Bobcats

Well, it was a bit closer than you’d like to be against the Bobcats, but wins are what count and the Bucks are a game back of the Knicks for the final playoff spot in the East.

Game

The Bucks got off to a far-from-ideal start against the league’s worst team, and found themselves somehow trailing at the end of the first 12 minutes, 30-28. The 2nd quarter was not much of an improvement, but behind the play of Monta Ellis (13 first half points) and Brandon Jennings (10 first half points) the Bucks were able to snag a lead just before halftime, 53-52. They won the 2nd quarter 25-22.

The 2nd half saw the contest continue as tightly as before, and like before, neither team was really able to get much going offensively. Both teams shot poorly (as they did all game) in a 3rd quarter which the Bucks won 19-16 to give themselves a 72-68 lead heading into the game’s final quarter. It may not have been pretty, but it was better than the 3rd quarter meltdown this Bucks team seems to enjoy so much. The 4th quarter was more of the same, and the Bucks barely edged Charlotte out 23-22 to seal the game at 95-90. The Bobcats shot 42% from the field, actually slightly higher than Milwaukee’s 41% and outrebounded the Bucks fairly decisively at 57-45. Both teams went 16-24 from the charity stripe, but the Bucks only committed 12 turnovers to Charlotte’s 20, the difference in the game, and a testament to Scott Skiles’s style. 

Byron Mullens 

The best performance of tonight’s game came from Byron Mullens, who shot 14-23 from the floor on his way to a game high 31 points. On top of that, he grabbed 14 rebounds and was consistently the best player on the court all game.

Monta Ellis

Ellis only shot 9-21 from the floor, but made 7-9 from the free throw line on the way to a team high 25 points. He also grabbed 4 rebounds, dished 3 assists and had 3 steals.

Brandon Jennings

Jennings played Robin to Ellis’s Batman tonight, shooting 8-17 from the floor on his way to 18 points. Beyond the points, however, he stole the ball 5 times and dished 9 assists as Ellis and Jennings seem to be more and more comfortable with their roles each passing game.

Shoutout to Ersan Ilyasova. Yet another double-double: 12 points, 15 rebounds.

The Bucks have been on a pretty solid run recently, and are definitely poised to grab that 8th playoff spot. From here on out, if they just keep winning, they very well could be playing past the 66th game this season.

Fear the Deer!

The First Half

The Bucks stormed out to a big first half lead that ballooned to 14 points by halftime. Contributions came from the entire lineup, with some fast starts from Monta Ellis (10 points and 6 assists) and “Steady-Eddie” Ersan Ilyasvoa reaching double digits with 10 points.  In a pleasantly suprising offensive outburst, Ekpe Udoh posted a respectable 9 points, 5 rebounds to round out the top performers of the half.  That the team has 54 points with a subdued first half offensive performance from Brandon Jennings (3 points) bodes well for both tonights game and the rest of this season.

Game

The second half went the way that many of the Bucks games have gone this season: A big lead going in to the half slips away, then Milwaukee either folds, or turns it on and runs away with the game.  Tonight, thankfully, the Bucks opted for the latter, responding with great second half showings from Jennings and Ellis.  The win is the Bucks 4th out of 4 games against Cleveland this season, each time with the offense blowing past the 100 point mark.  The win also brought Milwaukee to within 1 game of the dormant Knicks for the final playoff spot.

Monta Ellis

Any discussion of this game must begin by talking about the late game performance of the Bucks new weapon.  His overall stat line (30 points, 8 assists) looks like just another scorer in a Bucks lineup that scores just under 100 points per game.  But the most important aspect of his game was the final 16 Bucks points were all scored by Ellis.  This is something that the Bucks have been missing all season; a player that when the end of the game comes up, he can kick it up a notch and put the game beyond doubt.  Game after game the Bucks struggled with giving up big leads or coming up short on a rally.  With the addition of Monta, he could be the key piece that the Bucks so desperately need come playoff time.

Brandon Jennings

After a slow start, Jennings woke up in the second half offensively. His 18 points, combined with the great performance by Ellis, led the team through a rough period at times in the 3rd quarter.  Another promising sign; Brandon Jennings proved his shot selection has improved dramatically recently.  Earlier in the season, Jennings felt that he had to carry the team through thick and thin.  This lead to plenty of long three point shots, off balanced layups and reckless passes.  Now with the team playing the way they have been and the additions of Monta Ellis, Jennings play has been much more relaxed and the wins have followed.

Next up, the Bobcats come to Milwaukee for the 3rd game this season and a chance to seize a playoff spot for the first time this season.

Fear the Deer! 

4/4/12

Milwaukee Bucks (25-28) vs. Cleveland Cavaliers (17-34)

Milwaukee’s playoff chase continues tonight at the Bradley Center with a very winnable game against the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Bucks are 1.5 games back of the Knicks in the East, and the Cavs have lost 8 straight games.

Brandon Jennings/Monta Ellis

So far, the Jennings/Ellis backcourt situation seems to be tightening up, and the duo have quickly become what Milwaukee’s fans/ownership imagined and hoped for. Most games have seen at least one of these players step up with the other turning in a solid, supporting performance, and a continuation of that theme tonight would be for the best.

Ekpe Udoh

The less-talked about addition from Golden State, Udoh has played well thus far with Milwaukee, and turned in his best performance in a Bucks uniform yet last time out with 15 points, 8 rebounds and a career high 5 assists. If Udoh continues to put in solid performances, the team won’t need him to be a star and will thrive. 

Kyrie Irving

(Re-)Injured in his last time out against Milwaukee, Irving will sit again tonight. The near shoo-in for rookie of the year is Cleveland’s best player, and his absence gives the Bucks an even greater opportunity to close the 8th-seed gap.

If the Bucks play solid, Scott Skiles basketball this game should be over by the 3rd quarter. Anything is possible, though, and the Bucks need to focus on sealing this game early.

Fear the Deer!


25-28!

4/2/2012

Milwaukee Bucks 112-98 Washington Wizards

The Bucks took the lead early in the first quarter and never looked back as they cruised to a comfortable 112-98 win.  Although Milwaukee let a big lead dwindle away at the beginning of the second half, an offensive explosion from the duo of Ellis and Jennings led the rout from that point on.

Brandon Jennings-Monta Ellis 

The Monta Ellis-Brandon Jennings combination has taken some time to gel. The two players are both amazing talents, but despite his chemistry with the other members of the squad, Monta has struggled to work together with Jennings.  Tonight, the two were completely in sync, combining for 36 points, 13 assists.  The stats are impressive; the visual performance was beautiful.  Constantly, the two pestered their assignments around the perimeter and lead the team down the court on fast break opportunities.  Driving and kicking out, Jennings worked Ellis into the offense, and Ellis returned the favor with tight distributions to Udoh, Gooden, and the rest of the gang. Hopefully this is a sign of things to come.

Shaun Livingston

Although his stats were not overly impressive (10 points, 4 rebounds), it was encouraging to see Shaun have a good performance.  Its been a tough season for the young guard so far. After arriving in Milwaukee with such great optimism, Livingston suffered an ankle injury last month, and with the arrival of Ellis, has seen his playing time dwindle.  Tonight’s 10 points mark the first time since late February that Livingston has scored in the double digits, and his 24 minutes the most since March 2nd.  His 5-5 shooting on field goals in the final quarter put the game beyond all doubt.  Even though his performance will most likely not dictate the Bucks playoff chances, Shaun is an easily likable character, and his promising future can be seen in games like this one.

3 Cupcakes, 1 Stinker

The final month of the season starts out quite favorably for the Bucks.  Beginning with the Wizards, the Bucks will go on to play Cleveland, Charlotte, and Portland in their next three games, against whom Milwaukee has a combined 4-1 record.  The schedule does toughen a bit after that, with home games against the Thunder, Knicks, and Pacers.  

Fear the Deer!

4/2/2012

Milwaukee Bucks (24-28) vs Washington Wizards (12-40)

Verizon Center, Washington DC

Line: Bucks by 7.5

These two teams have seen some significant changes since their last meeting on February 28th.  The Bucks, marred in the midst of dismantlings by the beasts of the East (otherwise known as “Four Nights with the Magic”), were struggling to keep up with the Linsanity in New York and searching for answers.  Brandon Jennings said he was “exploring his options” with big market teams, and Bogut was becoming increasingly disgruntled. The Wizards circus with Javale Mcgee continued, and the team, fresh off the firing of Flip Saunders, still occupied the cellar of the Eastern Conference.

Now the Bucks are in an easier stretch of schedule, and have been playing much better of late.  The Wizards jettisoned Javale McGee, Nick Young, and Ronny Turiaf to the Nuggets and Clippers in return for a borderline All Star in Nene and Brian Cook.  Although the results have not changed, the team looks significantly better, and has been much more competitive with their new lineup.

Nene the Giant

The Brazilian star will miss tonight’s game due to lingering plantar faciitis (i.e. a muscle inflammation in his foot). In his previous game vs Milwaukee as a member of the Nuggets, Nene had a respectable 14 points and 9 rebounds and thoroughly outplayed Andrew Bogut, who managed only 2 points and 6 rebounds.  After trading McGee, the Wizards have very little size to put on the court, with the exception of Nene.  Look for Jennings and Monte to have free reign in driving to the basket.

Shootout Ahead

In their latest of 2 meetings this season, these two teams put on a scoring clinic, with the Bucks eeking out a 119-118 win in Milwaukee. Although the scoring was aided by the two teams combining for 58 free throw attempts, 13 players hit double digits in points, including Ersan Ilyasova in his last second, game winning tip in.  With the Bucks offense having greatly improved with the new additions and the increased chemistry and flow, the 100 point mark should easily be eclipsed tonight, and as a wild card, Dunleavy could have a repeat of his impressive 28 point performance in their last meeting.